T he 'culture of water' and the 'bath tradition' have been known in Anatolia since time immemorial. But it was the 'Turkish hamam' that immortalized them, making them an integral part of everyday life and culture. In their homeland in Central Asia , the Turks had steam baths which they called 'manchu'. Bringing their Asian tradition with them, they merged it with the bath culture they found in Anatolia , and a new synthesis was born, the 'Turkish bath'. With their traditions, associated beliefs, and philosophy of life, baths became an institution, which spread all the way from Anatolia to Hungary in Europe . Many European artists took the Turkish bath, and women's gatherings at baths, as a theme in their paintings.
SPECIAL BATH DAYS
Although baths served society as a whole, men and women came to bathe at separate times. Bathing was a form of social life, and women in particular celebrated certain important occasions at the bath, for example: the 'bridal bath ceremony', which was held one day before wedding festivities commenced; the 'forty-day bath', which marked the fortieth day following the birth of a child; the 'tear-drying bath', attended by all relatives and friends of the deceased twenty days after her death; the 'votary bath', held when a person's wish was fulfilled; the 'guest bath', to which the hostess invited her friends and relatives to meet a special visitor; and the 'holiday bath' which was taken on the eve of religious holidays.
PROTECTION FROM THE EVIL EYE
For women, baths were also beauty salons where facial, hair and body care was available all day long together with herbal treatment of certain conditions and therapy with various oils. A woman's body was beautified and her soul restored at the bath. The perspiring body was rubbed with hand mits made of silk or linen to cleanse it of all the old skin, and lathered up numerous times to purify it of toxins. Afterwards, a woman felt literally purged of all her cares. Sometimes voices could often be heard murmuring, "May Allah protect you from the evil eye." Or, of more plump women congregated around the marble basin, "Mashallah! A
good man's wife is revealed in the bath!" And of pretty women they said, "May he who embraces you be spared." Children accompanied their mothers to the bath, but as the boys got older, other women would remark, "dear boy, tell your mother to bring your father next time!" Mothers of boys chose brides for their sons at the baths, where women bathed and groomed themselves in groups and which were therefore transformed into festivals of art and culture with all the myriad colors of social life.
All the items used in the activities that went on in the bath were carefully prepared. Every woman had 13 or 14 different bathing accessories, examples of which are virtual works of art today, and an indication to us of how rich Turkish bath culture was. Let us look at some of the examples to hand in the light of this brief summary: Every family had a pair of 'bath bowls' in keeping with its taste and degree of wealth, the larger one for the men, the smaller for the women. For, it was believed, "A husband and wife who use the same bath
bowl won't get along." Bath bowls came in several varieties: fat and round bowls of silver, bronze or copper, decorated with reliefs, inlays or fish. The soap dish was a lidded container with a handle on top, oval-shaped, with holes in the bottom like a sieve. Soap, combs, and rubbing and lathering mits were placed inside it. There was also a metal container in the shape of a pumpkin for keeping jewelry after getting undressed in the bath. Bath mirrors meanwhile were oval or round with wooden or silver frames.
THE MUSICAL TAP OF THE CLOGS
The chic bath clogs that were worn on the feet were carved out of wood in special shapes and decorated using various techniques. Being quite high off the floor, they ensured that the bather's feet never came into contact with the soapy water. Bath clogs with silver bells accompanied the sashaying bodies of the young women with a pleasing tinkle. The most sought-after combs, whether coarse- or fine-toothed, were those made of ivory, which were plated with silver and gold.
Thin bath towels (pestamal) were woven in modern-looking, plaid designs. The weaving technique was similar to that of the silk fabrics woven in Thailand and wound by women round their bodies as dresses. After women had undressed in the bath, they covered their bodies below the breasts with these towels. Bath towels were adorned with various types of embroidery. After bathing, women wrapped themselves in these towels, the biggest one around the waist, the middle-size one around the shoulders and the smallest around the head. The highest-quality towels were woven in Bursa . After the hair was toweled dry and combed, a gauze-like white 'tülbent' was wound round the head to absorb any remaining moisture. When one went to the bath, a bath mat was spread on the floor. This was a towel-type textile, with a red square on a white field and red stripes around the edge. Bundles were placed on it, and the bather stood on it to get undressed and dressed. At the bridal bath ceremony the bride was decked out in a bath robe, a special garment made of silk, open in front from top to bottom. Its collar, front edges, and back were decorated with embroidery. Short-sleeved like a sort of Japanese kimono, it was worn
over the naked body and tied at the waist with a sash. Dressed in such garments, brides and young women would dance to music around a pool with a jet of water. Meanwhile two female musicians, one with a tambourine, the other with finger bells, would play various airs and sing, bringing the bridal bath to a close amidst great merriment.
24-HOUR HOT WATER
Public baths, where such occasions were celebrated as a group, were located in the cities and towns and in some villages and were open to everyone. The imperial palaces and pavilions, Istanbul 's waterside residences, and the stately mansions in provincial cities and towns also had their own private baths, which were usually located at the end of a greenhouse-like passageway, filled with flowers, connecting the house and the garden. Bathers went to and from the bath through this flower-lined passage. It was traditional to consume fruit, lemonade and various fruit juices and sherbets in the bath, where hot water flowed from the taps night and day and the interiors were fashionably sheathed in
marble. Although these baths are only a memory today, one such bath, inside Yildiz Palace , has been turned into a museum. As part of social life, hamam traditions have been incorporated into numerous folk songs and verses as well as riddles and proverbs. Let us close with a few examples: "he who enters a bath will sweat" (We must face the consequences of our actions); "to praise oneself in a place where one is a stranger is like singing in a bath-house" (A man away from home has leave to lie). The garments and other items shown in the photographs are from the collection of Sabiha Tansug.
PHOTO: SERVET DILBER
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Turkish Bath (Hamam)
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